Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 22 September, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

Assurance of quality in higher education is the collections of policies, procedures, systems and practices internal or external to the organisation designed to achieve, maintain and enhance quality

explanatory context

Quality assurance, in higher education, has become a generic term used as shorthand for all forms of external quality monitoring, evaluation or review.


The core definition above, changed in April 2009, used to be as follows:

Assurance of quality in higher education is a process of establishing stakeholder confidence that provision (input, process and outcomes) fulfils expectations or measures up to threshold minimum requirements.

The change is because one reading of this definition suggests that quality assurance can be seen as assuring the stakeholder that there is quality,
regardless of whether there really is quality. (I'm indebted to David Woodhouse for this observation). The new core definition is more focused on stressing quality per se. (Whether quality assurance is successful in improving quality is a separate issue and one that is discussed below.)

Assurance is formally restricted to establishing whether the explicit or implicit pledge made by an institution or programme has been met. However, the mechanisms for quality assurance, both internal and external to an institution or programme, are so diverse that they overlap with mechanisms and rationales for reviewing and checking quality. Hence, it is often difficult be precise about the dividing line between assuring, evaluating, assessing or auditing quality.


This overlapping set of designations is evident in the following definitions of quality assurance. Furthermore, although assurance is primarily about ensuring accountability to stakeholders, some definitions allude to an enhancement or improvement function of quality assurance. Also, most definitions state or imply that quality assurance is something done to institutions by an external agency, although assurance of quality can be done within an institution, via an internal process of checking of some kind, or it could be part of a self-regulatory process.

analytical review

One view suggests that:

Quality assurance is an all-embracing term covering all the policies, processes, and actions through which the quality of higher education is maintained and developed. (Campbell & Rozsnyai, 2002, p. 32)


The UNESCO definition enlarges on that:

Quality Assurance: An all-embracing term referring to an ongoing, continuous process of evaluating (assessing, monitoring, guaranteeing, maintaining, and improving) the quality of a higher education system, institutions, or programmes. As a regulatory mechanism, quality assurance focuses on both accountability and improvement, providing information and judgments (not ranking) through an agreed upon and consistent process and well-established criteria. Many systems make a distinction between internal quality assurance (i.e., intra-institutional practices in view of monitoring and improving the quality of higher education) and external quality assurance (i.e., inter- or supra-institutional schemes of assuring the quality of higher education institutions and programmes). Quality assurance activities depend on the existence of the necessary institutional mechanisms preferably sustained by a solid quality culture. Quality management, quality enhancement, quality control, and quality assessment are means through which quality assurance is ensured. The scope of quality assurance is determined by the shape and size of the higher education system. Quality assurance varies from accreditation, in the sense that the former is only a prerequisite for the latter. In practice, the relationship between the two varies a great deal from one country to another. Both imply various consequences such as the capacity to operate and to provide educational services, the capacity to award officially recognized degrees, and the right to be funded by the state. Quality assurance is often considered as a part of the quality management of higher education, while sometimes the two terms are used synonymously. (Vlãsceanu et al., 2004, pp. 48–49)


CHEA (2001) implies that external quality assurance focuses on standards monitoring and refers to enhancement as well maintenance of quality.

Quality Assurance: Planned and systematic review process of an institution or program to determine that acceptable standards of education, scholarship, and infrastructure are being maintained and enhanced. Usually includes expectations that mechanisms of quality control are in place and effective. Also (U.K.), the means through which an institution confirms that the conditions are in place for students to achieve the standards set by the institution or other awarding body.


The Association europeenne des conservatoires (AEC, 2004) places more emphasis on quality assurance as an external process of monitoring reliability and consistency, which it links to the Bologna process

Quality Assurance: The collective term for the systems by which courses, qualifications and the institutions which run them are monitored to ensure reliability, consistency and the maintaining of fair, rigorous practices and high standards. The Bologna Declaration proposes a framework of European co-operation in quality assurance with a view to developing comparable criteria and methodologies.


Duff et al., (2000, p. xv) define quality assurance as a process of demonstrating excellence, accountability and value for money:

Quality assurance is a process through which a higher education institution guarantees to itself and its stakeholders that its teaching, learning and other services consistently reach a standard of excellence. Such assurance is a necessary goal for the institution itself. Increasingly, it is also necessary for publicly funded institutions to be accountable, and provide assurances, to society and the state that they are delivering the services for which they are funded, thus ensuring that they are providing value for money. Therefore quality assurance incorporates all the processes internal to the institution, whereby quality is evaluated, maintained and improved.


The South African Council on Higher Education, Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) (2004, p. 28) writes:

Quality assurance: Processes of ensuring that specified standards or requirements have been achieved.


The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) in the UK (2010, p. 83) also links quality assurance with achievement of standards :

Quality assurance is the means through which an institution ensures and confirms that the conditions are in place for students to achieve the standards set by it or by another awarding body.

Melia (1994, p. 40) also linked quality assurance with standards:

Quality assurance provides users of the higher education system with a guarantee that institutions, courses and graduates meet certain standards.


The QEPSE-Leonardo (2011) Glossary states:

Assurance of quality is a process of establishing stakeholder confidence that provision (input, process and outcomes) fulfils expectations or measures up to threshold minimum requirements.

Sicherung: Sicherung der Qualität ist ein Prozess zum Aufbau des Vertrauens von Stakeholdern, dass das Angebot (Input, Prozess und Ergebnisse) die Erwartungen erfüllt oder Mindestanforderungen genügt


The emphasis for the European training Foundation (1998, p. 12) is on

Policies, processes, and actions to maintain quality. The focus is on accountability to the stakeholders.


Woodhouse (1999, p. 30) maintains that quality assurance is about maintenance and enhancement of quality:

The phrase quality assurance refers to the policies, attitudes, actions and procedures necessary to ensure that quality is being maintained and enhanced. It may include any one or more of the approaches … [audit, assessment, accreditation]. Quality assurance is sometimes used in a more restricted sense, either to denote the achievement of a minimum standard or to refer to assuring stakeholders that quality is being achieved (i.e. accountability).


Fraser also included enhancement in his early view of quality assurance::

 quality assurance has four components. These are that:

1.     Everyone in the enterprise has a responsibility for maintaining the quality of the product or service (i.e. the substandard rarely reaches the quality controllers because the have been rejected at source).

2.     Everyone in the enterprise has a responsibility for enhancing the quality of the product or service.

3.     Everyone in the enterprise understands, uses and feels ownership of the system that is in place for maintaining and enhancing quality.

4.     Management (and sometimes the customer or client) regularly checks the validity and reliability of the systems for checking quality.

If the word university replaces enterprise throughout this paragraph, then a university that takes quality assurance seriously emerges as a self-critical community of students, teachers, support staff and senior managers, each contributing to and striving for continued improvement. (Fraser, 1994, p. 105-6)


Kisuniene (2004) defines quality assurance in the Lithuanian context as follows:

Quality assurance comprises the whole state education policy, systems and processes which ensure good and high quality learning as part of the process of vocational education and training.


A view that accentuates the internal approach to assurance is provided in the University of Aberdeen (2002) definition:

Quality Assurance: How a university satisfies itself that the structures and mechanisms for monitoring its quality control procedures are effective and, where appropriate, that they promote the enhancement of the quality of its educational provision.


For Tempus (2001), quality assurance is defined more generically and is about standardisation of product

Quality Assurance – a set of predetermined systematic actions applicable within the framework of quality assurance with the purpose of ensuring that the producers or final users get a standard quality product or service. It consists of separate yet connected activities: quality control and quality assessment


Centrex (2004) frames it simply as an institutional confirmation of achieved standards:

Quality Assurance is the means by which an organisation confirms that conditions are in place for students to achieve the standards set by the training organisation.


The Hungarian Higher Education Act (2000 amendment) defines:  

Quality assurance system: a system of deliberate and organised activities covering the whole institution which serves the constant approximation of the professional objectives of the institution to the actual operation of it and which is focused on the fulfilling of the needs of the direct and indirect partners, especially of students (including adults participating in further education), employers, those who order researches and the national and international scientific community.  (Szanto, 2003)


For Siddam (2007) in  

Quality assurance (QA) is the activity (process, standards,techniques, etc) of providing evidence needed to establish confidence among all concerned, that quality-related activities are being performed effectively. All those planned or systematic actions necessary to provide adequate confidence that a product or service will satisfy given requirements for quality.

In its Glossary on the Berlin Communiqué, ENQA (2003) notes:

Quality Assurance: A central goal of the “Bologna Process” is to define and observe Europe-wide quality standards in higher education. A precondition is the elaboration of comparable methods and criteria to assess the quality of research and teaching. In 1998, the European Council recommended stronger co-operation in this field. As a response to this Council initiative and the objectives of the Bologna Declaration, the European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) was established. Since 1999, ENQA has supplied information about proven practical experiences as well as the newest approaches and discussions in the field of quality assessment and quality assurance. In the course of the so-called Bologna Seminars, initial results of the debate on European quality standards for the implementation of Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes were presented in Amsterdam ("The European Dimension of Quality Assurance"). The pilot project “Tuning Educational Structures in Europe”, born of a university initiative in which 70 European universities participate, has submitted reference criteria for the comparison of final structures and teaching approaches for seven subjects (Business Studies, Education Science, Geology, History, Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics).

For Peter Williams (2011) Former President of ENQA:  

there is no single common definition of the phrase ‘quality assurance’. As a result we have the confusion that allows quality assurance to be a tag which is used to cover everything from information for students to state control of universities; from the allocation of money to the improvement of pedagogical practice; from the creation of rankings to internal departmental self analysis and student feedback. Quality assurance has become a catch-all phrase; it is asked to do too many different things and as a result it can do few of them to anyone’s satisfaction.

associated issues

There is a continuing debate about whether quality assurance is best achieved via continual internal monitoring processes or through external checks. This links into debates about what is the purpose of higher education. Askling et al. (2004) note:

A national quality assurance system might offer conceptual tools and basic facts for internal debate about the nature and purpose of higher education.

related areas

See also











Askling, B., Hofgaard Lycke, K. and Stave, O., 2004, ‘Institutional leadership and leeway – important elements in a national system of quality assurance and accreditation: experiences from a pilot study’, Tertiary Education and Management 10 pp. 107–120.

Association europeenne des conservatoires [Academies de musique et musikhochschulen] (AEC), 2004, Glossary of terms used in relation to the Bologna Declaration, accessed September 2004. Not available at this address 31 January 2011.

Campbell, C. & Rozsnyai, C., 2002, Quality Assurance and the Development of Course Programmes. Papers on Higher Education Regional University Network on Governance and Management of Higher Education in South East Europe Bucharest, UNESCO.

Centrex, 2004, Glossary of Terms, Centrex is a registered trademark of the Central Police Training and Development Authority. Page undated, accessed November 2004, not available at this address 4 February 2011.

Council For Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) 2001, Glossary of Key Terms in Quality Assurance and Accreditation, last updated 23 October 2002, accessed 18 September 2012, page not available 30 December 2016.

Council on Higher Education, Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC), 2004, Criteria for Institutional Audits, April (Pretoria, Council on Higher Education).

Duff, T., Hegarty, J. and Hussey, M., 2000, Academic Quality Assurance in Irish Higher Education: Elements of a handbook, (Dublin, Blackhall).

European Network of Quality Agencies (ENQA), 2003, The Bologna Process, Glossary, accessed 21 September 2012, page not available 31 December 2016.

European Training Foundation (ETF), 1998, Quality Assurance in Higher Education:  Manual of Quality Assurance in Higher Education: Procedures and Practices (Turin: European Training Foundation).

Fraser, M., 1994, ‘Quality in higher education: an international perspective’ in Green, D. (Ed.), 1994, What is Quality in Higher Education? pp. 101–111 (Buckingham, Open University press and Society for Research into Higher Education)

Kisuniene, G., 2004, Quality Assurance: Priority of the Education Reform. Originally at, accessed 22 April 2006, not available at this address, 3 February 2011.

Melia, T., 1994, ‘Inspecting quality in the classroom: an HMI perspective’ in Green, D. (Ed.), 1994, What is Quality in Higher Education? pp. 38–45 (Buckingham, Open University press and Society for Research into Higher Education)

QEPSE-Leonardo, 2011, Glossary, available at, accessed 5 March 2011, not available 29 January 2012.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), 2010, Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education. Collaborative provision and flexible and distributed learning (including e-learning) Amplified version October 2010, available at, accessed 19 September 2012, page not available at this address 31 December 2016.

Siddam, R., 2007, 'Quality Assurance' available at, added 22 September 2007, accessed 20 September 2012, page not available 31 December 2016.

Szanto, T.R., 2003, ‘Hungary – Higher Education' in Educational Evaluation  around the World  An International Anthology p. 103 ff (Copenhagen, The Danish  Evaluation Institute) ISBN 87-7958-132-3.

Tempus, 2001, Glossary of the Terms related to Quality Assurance Development of Quality Assurance System in Higher Education (QUASYS) Tempus Joint European Project, UM JEP-16015-2001, accessed 3 August 2008, not available 29 January 2011.

University of Abeerdeen, 2002, Academic Quality Guide: Section 2: Quality Assurance in Higher Education: an Overview, last modified, 15 May 2002. The handbook has been revised and Section 2 is now available at, updated 2010, accessed 2 February 2011. However, the statement on assurance is not visible 24 January 2012, still available 31 December 2016, not available 19 June 2019.

Vlãsceanu, L.,  Grünberg, L., and Pârlea, D., [2004] 2007,  Quality Assurance and Accreditation: A Glossary of Basic Terms and Definitions ( Bucharest , UNESCO-CEPES) Revised and updated edition (original 2004). ISBN 92-9069-186-7, available at , accessed 19 June 2019.

Williams, P., 2011, 'Quality assurance – Friend or Foe?', in the publication of papers of the XXIII Anniversary of the Magna Charta Universitatum, Bologna, Italy, 15-16 September 2011.

Woodhouse, D., 1999, ‘Quality and Quality Assurance’ in Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), 1999, Quality and Internationalisation in Higher Education, pp. 29–44, Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE), Paris, OECD.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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